Editor’s note: This is one in a series of pieces on the Nov. 6 midterm election. WTOP interviewed candidates in key contested local races. See all of WTOP’s coverage election coverage.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Tim Kaine, from Virginia, is not sitting back in his race for re-election against bombastic Republican Trump supporter Corey Stewart and Libertarian Matt Waters.
“It’s about Virginia, solving problems of Virginians and taking Virginia solutions to Washington,” said Kaine, a Democrat. “It’s about work, the dignity of work, the most trained workforce, immigration reform, fair wages, fair taxes, and then it’s got to work for all, the last two words of the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, has built his campaign this year for Senate similarly to last year’s unsuccessful bid for governor: around support for President Donald Trump, attacks on immigration policies and, in some cases, Confederate symbols.
“We need someone in the United States Senate who’s going to shake things up; I think it’s a disaster up there, and we need to push through the president’s policies on rebuilding our military, making the tax cuts permanent, building the wall, securing our borders,” Stewart said.
Hillary Clinton, with Kaine as her running mate, won Virginia in 2016.
“The president’s had a lot of successes since 2016,” Stewart said, citing the tax bill passed last year and the current state of the economy. “The president is on the right track.”
Matt Waters, the Libertarian nominee, believes a vote for him would push for even more dramatic change. The “recovering Republican,” who became a Libertarian after hearing Rep. Ron Paul speak a decade ago, wants to slash government agencies and spending.
“As a Libertarian candidate, we’re dealing with the major structural issues that our country faces. It’s a spending crisis, and we need to rein in spending,” Waters said.
His focus is to cut significant portions of federal programs to end the federal debt.
“The duopoly in Washington, the Republicans and the Democrats, are offering the same tired solutions to these … problems we face, and I don’t think they’re being honest with the American people about how big and serious a problem that we have is directly in front of us,” Waters said.
The father of three home-schooled kids, Waters has worked as a political consultant for campaigns and political action committees and in support of state ballot initiatives.
“I’ve been working with these issues for a number of years, and I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on the structural things that Washington can and can’t do, and what we should and shouldn’t do,” Waters said.
Charting a new direction?
Kaine said Stewart’s focus on “taking back Virginia” would simply divide the state.
He described the theme of his campaign as “upbeat, forward-looking, positive and inclusive. His theme is backward-looking and angry, and I think I’ve chosen a theme that is consistent with who I am, how I’ve governed and how I will govern, and he’s chosen a theme consistent with who he is and how he would govern,” Kaine said.
Kaine, a former Virginia governor and Richmond mayor, is hopeful he will win another six-year term to help all corners of the commonwealth.
“National issues are important in a midterm; they definitely are — but one of the things we’re noticing is that Virginians feel pretty good about the direction of the commonwealth,” Kaine said.
“I think they’re more troubled by the direction of the nation under the administration right now. They have real concerns about division, divisive language. They have concerns about leadership they wouldn’t want their children to emulate or be like,” he added.
Stewart believes support for the president is the path to victory in Virginia, though.
“People know where I stand, and even if they disagree with me, at least they know what they’re going to get. I keep my promises; I don’t beat around the bush. I’m very direct and, frankly, that’s what people want right now,” he said.
Though he has not appeared regularly at campaign events with many Virginia Republican congressional candidates over concerns he could drag down their election night results, Stewart said there has been cooperation behind the scenes.
“Look, they’ve got their races to run …. I’ve got my brand, which is very direct, very honest, and I can be brutally honest, but I am going to tell the voters exactly what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear.”
Asked for another specific issue he would address in the Senate, Stewart jumped to what he called discrimination against Asian-American students in admissions to selective colleges. That is the subject of a lawsuit against Harvard University backed by a conservative group.
More coverage on the 2018 elections in Virginia:
- Virginia voter guide
- Arlington County board
- US Rep. Brat faces challenges from Spanberger, Walton in Virginia’s 7th
- Wittman faces challenge from Williams in Virginia’s 1st District
- Comstock faces Wexton in high-profile race for Virginia’s 10th District
“I intend to introduce legislation next year to prohibit universities from using race in considering college applications,” Stewart said.
The change would largely benefit white students.
Stewart, who has at times emphasized his support for Confederate monuments and has had aides who have been associated with white nationalist or other groups, said in an interview that those views are not a part of his campaign.
“I’ve disavowed every single person who is a racist or a bigot or an anti-Semite,” Stewart said.
He has continued to call for an increase in deportations of people who are in the U.S. illegally, and suggested in the WTOP interview that he believed all MS-13 gang members in Northern Virginia are in the country illegally.
“I do support lawful immigration,” Stewart said, which would include new paths to citizenship for people in the U.S. on visas for high-demand jobs.
Health care, Social Security
For Waters, the Libertarian solution to health care costs and funding challenges for Social Security is to end government involvement.
“I think health care’s too important to give to Washington to solve. I think the environment, the questions facing the environment right now, are too important to give to the Environmental Protection Agency. I think our retirement security is far too important to give to Washington bureaucrats and agencies to manage our retirement because what they’ve shown is they can’t do it well,” Waters said.
“It’s not evil intent or malice; it’s just that it’s so big, it’s unmanageable,” he said.
Instead of current Social Security benefits, everyone would have something like a private 401(k) account.
“A vote for Matt Waters is a vote for change, magnificent change, big change in Washington,” Waters said.
Stewart simply said he would aim to protect current benefits, and objected to any potential increase in payroll taxes to cover costs.
Kaine believes improving on the Affordable Care Act and protecting other benefits is critical.
“We won’t be trying to slash Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security, which [Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell said would be the Republican priority if they hold the majority. We won’t be trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is what leader McConnell said would be a Republican priority. So I think you’d see us putting bills on the president’s desk that were more likely to help Americans than hurt them,” Kaine said.
He recently joined the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, in addition to his position on the Armed Services Committee.
“The issue that I hear about probably most commonly around Virginia is health care, and what people want is, they want cost control and they want more options,” Kaine said.
“They definitely want the Trump administration to stop their admitted efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, and this is an area of great difference between my opponent and me. I want to preserve the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, and he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and dramatically cut Medicaid funding,” Kaine said.
Kaine supports a new opportunity for people to pay to have Medicare as their insurance, a plan he calls Medicare X.
It would be an option on state health insurance exchanges.
“Because Medicare doesn’t have to collect a profit, return to shareholders, pay taxes, pay fancy salaries, it would be a very cost-effective policy. And, we would put that on the exchange beginning in rural America, but then soon on every exchange, so that every consumer would have one more option … in terms of health care coverage that would be more affordable and that would have important protections: protection for pre-existing condition, protections against discrimination based on gender, effective negotiation for the price of prescription drugs,” Kaine said.
Kaine and Stewart each say they have helped address transportation issues in the region.
Kaine pointed to the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and related agreements worked out from his time as governor through his time in the Senate, as well as funding for Memorial Bridge reconstruction, as well as and Amtrak and VRE improvements.
He strongly believes Congress will extend its commitment of $150 million a year to Metro for capital funds beyond the scheduled expiration next fall.
“We have a lot more work to do,” Kaine said.
He hopes a long-discussed infrastructure bill Trump said he would support can be developed soon.
“If he’s serious about that … [there’s] nothing I’d like more than to meaningfully work on infrastructure with the president, and that would be roads, bridges, ports, airports, but I’m also very focused on the need to build out a more vigorous broadband and telecom infrastructure in rural Virginia, rural America, to make sure that those communities feel connected to the mainstream economy,” Kaine said.
Under Stewart, Prince William County has continued to spend its transportation budget on road projects. “Virginia hasn’t received its fair share of road construction revenues from the federal government,” Stewart charged.
“After I’m elected, we will have at least one Republican from Virginia in the United States Senate who will work with Republicans in the Senate, with Republicans in the House, and the Republican president, to widen 66 and 95 and other major roadways without massive tolls,” he said.
Widening work to add one lane to Interstate 66 with HOV or toll lanes is already underway between the Capital Beltway and Gainesville, and additional work there after 2022 is limited by the state’s contract with the private company building and operating the lanes.
Stewart said he would push hard to increase federal spending on Virginia if he is elected.
“We need somebody who’s going to work in the Senate and be willing to be a little bit brutal but at times work together, even with the other party, to get things accomplished,” Stewart said.
Kaine said he has worked across the aisle, with bills signed by both President Barack Obama and Trump, and said there is no way to get anything done in the Senate without some bipartisanship, since 60 votes are needed for many actions.
“The Senate works best with people who know how to build bridges across aisles to get to that 60-vote threshold, and I think I’m one of the best in the Senate at doing that and that is to the advantage of Virginians. Choosing a more partisan person who couldn’t reach across the aisle who wants to go in and ‘blow the place up’ — that’s not the way to actually make the Senate work,” Kaine said.
Stewart vs. Waters
Stewart acknowledged he and Waters, the Libertarian, have a lot in common.
“There really isn’t a whole lot of difference between me and Matt — just that, as Matt would even acknowledge, he doesn’t have a chance of winning. A vote for him really could be the vote that puts me over the top over Kaine, and so I would just ask people that even if you agree with his philosophy a little bit more than mine, please vote for me because, otherwise, you’re going to get Tim Kaine: You’re going to get more of the same,” Stewart said.
Waters said a vote for him does send an important message: that his clearer policies have support. He aims to top 10 percent of votes cast.
“This dramatically changes things. It puts both the Democrat and Republican party establishment on notice that they can no longer offer up the same old tired solutions to Americans, so you have … others coming into the debate,” Waters said.
A strong performance for Waters would automatically qualify Libertarians for the ballot in Virginia for upcoming elections.
“We really need some fresh thinking here in Washington on these critically important policy questions,” Waters said.
He called Stewart a “decent guy.”
“He’s raised taxes six or seven times down there in Prince William County … these are things I don’t think the government should be doing,” Waters said.
Waters promised he would not vote to raise taxes or increase spending.
“It’s how we spend money and what’s the proper role of government. The proper role of government in the Libertarian mind is to protect our rights: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness or our property. Beyond that, the government shouldn’t be doing it,” Waters said.
“There’s a very limited role for government, and so I’m looking at agencies and departments to eliminate or privatize or to downsize. And that kind of talk — that used to be Republican-speak years ago. Not any longer,” Waters added.
Waters also wants to legalize marijuana, end the war on drugs and rein in government surveillance.
Stewart said he supports decriminalization and medical use of marijuana.
Waters is more measured in his support for Trump than Stewart is, noting some areas of agreement and more disagreements.
Waters said he agreed with Trump’s call to pull American military forces out of long-established bases in countries such as Japan, South Korea and Germany, since foreign involvements “make us less free.”
Waters sharply disagrees with the president on ongoing tariff increases.
Enthusiasm equals victory
Stewart believes the election will be close, but that he will win.
“At the end of the day, my voters are going to be a lot more … energized. They’re coming out. And, I tell you, since the Kavanaugh hearings, people are really angry with the Senate Democrats,” Stewart said.
“People want nothing to do with the weirdos who were clawing at the doors of the Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago,” Stewart said.
Kaine said he treated Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination like any other: by studying his record, meeting with the judge and watching the Judiciary Committee hearings.
“Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed. The Republicans may not have liked the fact that some voted against him, but that’s what advise and consent means,” Kaine said.
“I don’t buy the notion that they have reason to complain about it. The president’s nominee was confirmed and they can’t complain that some voted no. When President Obama nominated Judge (Merrick) Garland for the Supreme Court, they wouldn’t even do him the courtesy of … holding a hearing or a vote,” Kaine said.
At the same time, he hopes Democratic voters understand the additional oversight the Senate could provide of the Trump administration if Democrats gain control of the chamber and the opportunity to send more bills matching Democratic priorities to the president’s desk.
“Comprehensive immigration reform, which we’ve tried to do for a very long time, is important. I think universal background checks to reduce gun violence is important. I think we could work together with the White House on an infrastructure bill to make investments in infrastructure that would be very helpful to Virginia, because Democrats strongly believe in infrastructure investment — I think that would be important. So, I think you’ll see us putting bills on the president’s desk that I think are the bills most likely to help Americans deal with the problems that they have,” Kaine said.
While some polls suggested Kaine may have the lead in the race heading into Election Day, he is not ready to relax. “Polls are about preferences, but elections are about energy,” Kaine said.
He noted Rep. Bobby Scott likes to say there are only two ways to win — run unopposed or run scared.
“Put me in the ‘run scared’ category until the polls close on Nov. 6,” Kaine said.
WTOP is owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, owners of which have donated to Corey Stewart’s campaign for Senate. Hubbard Broadcasting gives WTOP and WTOP.com complete editorial independence and does not exert influence over political coverage.